December 7, 2015


Posted in Advent, Atonement, Christmastide, David, Eastertide, Good Friday, Light of the World, Redeemer, Resurrection, Shepherd, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant tagged , , , at 10:57 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Heaven’s herald bore the glorious news
Of the Child a Virgin pure would bear:
Servant, yet Heaven’s everlasting Heir
And Son of David, monarch of the Jews,

Heaven’s army stormed the grassy plain
Near David’s city, lowly Bethlehem,
Overcoming shepherd-warriors, David’s kin,
With the battle cry that peace on earth would reign.

Heaven’s King walked justly among men
To heal the sick and bring to life the dead,
To feed the hungry pilgrims living bread,
To preach deliverance from every sin.

Heaven’s Face turned from the Son of Man
And plunged the earth in darkness deep
When Light and Life hung on the curséd tree
To suffer, bleed, and die, yet rise again.

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

December 24, 2013

Sonnet to Bethlehem

Posted in Christmastide, David, Incarnation, Shepherd, Son of God, The Eucharist, The Trinity, Word at 4:45 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

House of Bread, be chancel to the Bread of Life tonight,
Receive the blessed body of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Enfold the Word proceeding from the Father up on high,
And tune your soul to hear the sounds that fill the starry sky
As shepherds hear the angel tell of peace and God’s good will
Brought by the Shepherd who protects His sheep from every ill.
The second Adam, sent to bear the burden of our toils,
With bloody brow our bread will win and take the Victor’s spoils.
Man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God,
Yet here the Bread and Word converge, and every heart is awed.
Birthplace of David, bend the knee to David’s greater Son,
For in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead three in one.
O Bethlehem, once lowly town, now rise to greet your King.
Naomi’s night of grief has passed, and now hosannas ring.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

This morning I was dwelling on the idea of Christ as the Bread of Life, born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “House of Bread.” I had written about eight lines of the poem before I had to leave for noon mass, but I was struggling to find a conclusion. So when the priest mentioned the Hebrew name of Bethlehem in his sermon, I came home with renewed zeal to finish the poem today.

The imagery of bread pervades the Scriptures, and so it also pervades the poem, even when it is not as obvious as it is in the first few lines. The reference to David should bring to mind the story of his taking the shewbread (“the bread of the presence”) for his starving soldiers, an act which Jesus links with His disciples’ gleaning on the Sabbath. The concept of gleaning should bring to mind Naomi and Ruth, who would have died from lack of bread had it not been for the generosity of Boaz, who was a type of Christ.

Just as physical life is sustained by food, for which bread is used as a synecdoche (sorry, non-literary folks), our spiritual life is sustained by Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, in the Eucharist:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

May 28, 2013

Peace Meal

Posted in Darkness, David, Incarnation, Maundy Thursday, Moses, Redeemer, Resurrection, Son of God, Son of Man, Word tagged , , , , , at 11:23 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Piecemeal the plan unfolded from creation to the Cross:
Through Abraham and Moses sacrifices showed the cost.
Then David served as king, anticipating Jesus’ reign,
But kings who followed spoiled the sacred, making it profane.
And time and time again the prophets preached the truth of God
To those who spoke of justice but whose hearts were hiding fraud.
Then the worst, the years of silence with no prophet, priest or king;
No word from God to kindle hope, though darkness loomed foreboding.
Until an angel broke the silence to proclaim Immanuel
In whom all offices were gathered in one Man to dwell:
The Word of God and Prophet bold, who was the Truth and Way,
To pierce the darkness, He was Light and brought us endless day.
As God with man, the Son of Man, both Sacrifice and Priest,
King David’s greater Son whose righteousness will never cease.
He lived and died and lives again, His people’s wounds to heal.
And now enthroned, He is the Host who serves the great Peace Meal.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

This is another sweeping summary of the story of redemption. The underlying concept is that only in Christ is found all three offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. Only in Him are all the pieces and threads brought together in a perfect whole.

A couple of weeks ago I was giving a devotional about the Eucharist at choir practice, and I called it the Peace Meal. In the back of my head, the homonym “piecemeal” started rattling around, and this poem is the result.

March 9, 2013

Mercy’s Robes

Posted in David, Good Friday, Grace, Holy Week, Liturgical Calendar, Prodigal Son, Redeemer, The Eucharist at 10:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Forgiveness is clad in robes of linen white
And wears a signet ring and chain of gold.
He had a lesser robe he dropped in flight
From her who caused him pain with lies she told.

A many-colored robe he lost before
When jealous brothers sold him as a slave.
In all these tribulations Joseph bore,
He trusted it was God’s good will to save.

Sometimes forgiveness rends its battle robes
To know its enemy has fallen to his death.
Though Saul had sworn against him many oaths,
The mournful David raised laments and wept.

Forgiveness also sees past hardened hearts
Who laid their robes down so they could begin
Their vengeance on St. Stephen, who imparts
A prayer God would not charge them with their sin.

But when the lots were cast for our Lord’s robe
His great forgiveness fell like morning dew.
An avalanche of love flowed ’round the globe.
It is the selfsame mercy tendered you.

Repentant prodigals, we now approach
Our Father’s house and bask in His embrace.
Clad thus in mercy’s robes, without reproach
We join the feast prepared by hands of grace.

Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

The theme of clothing throughout the scriptures is worth studying in a larger context, but I have limited it to its relationship to forgiveness. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were clothed in God’s righteousness, and when they sinned, He made them coverings that reminded them not only of their former glory but of the blood-price of restoring them from their sin back to glory. But the fact that He was willing to pay the price Himself showed His great mercy, and it set the tone for our dealings with each other. Since He has so freely forgiven us such great sins, how dare we withhold forgiveness from our fellow man!? As those whose sins have been rolled away, we should in turn freely dispense mercy, though we must always remember that it is to a much lesser degree than our Father in heaven has done.

The message that this poem tries to convey is that those who live the life of forgiveness and love become like their Father, as is our goal. We are clothed in the righteousness of God when He forgives us of our sin, and that great gift obligates us to offer mercy freely to others. The three historical examples in the poem—Joseph, David, and Stephen—are prime examples of God’s people being exalted as they forgive their persecutors and allow God to fight their battles for them.

Joseph could have become bitter at his brothers or at the pharaoh’s wife, but he patiently endured suffering, and God exalted him to a level of honor and then gave him the perfect opportunity to show mercy to his brothers.

David had an opportunity to kill Saul, but he chose instead to honor Saul as the Lord’s anointed king, despite the fact that Saul had fallen into disobedience.

And then there is Stephen, who faithfully preached the Gospel, despite the cost of his own life. His dying words were filled with grace, love, and mercy for the very people who were killing him. They had removed their outer garments, which would symbolize their purposely shedding the robes of righteousness, in order to be freer to commit their atrocious sin. But the sinfulness of their deeds could not keep God from exalting Stephen.

We are always lifted up when we humble ourselves to forgive in the name of the One who forgave us everything.

The final verse was added during Lent of 2014. In re-reading the poem, it struck me how the first two lines resonate with the story of the prodigal son. And I realized that bringing in the reference would complete the thought that we forgive because we are forgiven.

October 24, 2011

Unto the Hills

Posted in Atonement, David, Holy Week, Moses, Redeemer, Suffering Servant at 10:57 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

I will lift up my hands!
I will lift up my weary hands,
Unto the hills,
The hill of battle.
The hill where Moses lifted up
His weary hands to heaven,
To seek God’s blessing
Upon His army.
The hill where Moses raised his hands
To bring the victory down
Unto God’s people,
The hill that Moses called

I will lift up my eyes!
I will lift up my longing eyes,
Unto the hills,
The hill of Zion.
The hill where David lifted up
His joyful eyes to heaven,
For God will shine forth
From out of Zion,
The hill where David raised his eyes
In prayer and praise to God,
Who blessed His people
On the hill forever called
The City of David.

I will lift up my prayer!
I will lift up my fervent prayer,
Unto the hills,
The Mount of Olives,
From whence Christ Jesus lifted up
His woeful prayer to heaven
To seek His Father’s will,
He prayed in agony;
The hill where He sweat drops of blood,
To wait for Judas’ kiss.
Betrayed, abandoned,
Arrested in the place
They called Gethsemane.

I will lift up my voice!
I will lift up my thankful voice,
Unto the hills,
The Hill of Calvary.
The hill where Jesus lifted up
His life upon a tree.
He took upon himself
The curse of Adam.
The hill where Jesus raised His voice
Declaring, “It is finished!”
For all God’s people.
There on the hill forever called
The Hill Golgotha.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

After realizing that I had written yet another piece that pulls together scenes from the Old and New Testaments (Exodus, Psalms, II Samuel, Matthew, Luke, and John, at the very least), I suddenly realized why my poems sweep across the landscape of the Bible. My favorite liturgies are those that include a series of readings spanning the history of redemption: the Great Vigil of Easter and the service of Lessons and Carols.

Focusing on one aspect of His-story puts us in danger of missing one or more important facets of the jewel of redemption. Would we ignore Moses? He is the greatest prophet who ever lived (Deuteronomy 34:10). Would we ignore David? Jesus is both the Son of David and the One whom David called Lord (Matthew 22:41-46). No, it is infinitely better for us to maintain all of these ideas together so that we can gain the fullest picture of salvation.

Pulling all the threads together also saves us from the worst enemy of good theology: oversimplification, including false dichotomies. For example, the first stanza of the poem ends with a name that identifies the place of victory with the Covenant God, “The LORD is my Banner” (Exodus 17:14-15). He who is the great “I AM” has as many names as the many ways in which He interacts with His beloved people, and some names for the ways in which He interacts with His (and our) enemies. All of these names are true, and each of them teaches us something vital about His character. He is no simple stock figure in a weekly drama; He is complex enough to be beautiful and dreadful, tender and fierce, and a thousand other ways all at the same time. He is God and there is none else, and when we fear Him, we need fear nothing else, because He fights for us.

This last point is evident in the name that ends the poem. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, is identified with Goliath according to many scholars, including Bishop Ray Sutton, one of my professors at Cranmer House. Young David did not defeat the giant; God did. Similarly, we have no means in ourselves to defeat the Evil One, but God’s promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head (skull) of the serpent was fulfilled when the cross of Christ was driven into the Place of the Skull. There is no way for Satan to win, so we lift up our hands, eyes, prayers, and voices to Almighty God who saves us!

Publishing this poem tonight is a great breakthrough for me, as it is the first substantial amount of poetry that I’ve written in several months. The general idea and a few of the lines in the first verse were jotted down on March 10, 2006. Over the past five years, I’ve returned to the draft occasionally, but until tonight I was unable to pull all of the concepts together that I wanted to express. If you were to count the number of lines in each stanza, you might ask the obvious question: Why 13 lines? My answer is that I don’t really know. Perhaps there was a general flow of ideas that naturally ended after 13 lines. I didn’t set out for that number, but it worked.

Over the years I’ve had people tell me that my poetry is too difficult for the average reader, that it is too dense and obtuse to be easily accessible. Though I have not purposely tried to deviate from my usual style, I believe this piece to be much simpler than most, at least on the surface. Though it has no rhyme, I’ve imposed a repeating structure that uses some of the devices of Hebrew poetry. There was no point in re-writing Psalm 121, as David had done a splendid job of that. My goal was to advance the argument from a place in history before David to the place to which his whole life pointed. By no means does my simple piece replace David’s Song of Ascents; it is merely a loving tribute to the Poet King, but mostly to the God whom he served.

August 24, 2011

David’s Stone

Posted in David, Kingdom, Resurrection, Spiritual Warfare at 7:48 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The brave young shepherd, stooping down,
Picked up five stones but needed only one.
For with that stone not cut by hand,
He toppled the Philistine giant’s land.

That stone invaded visions seen
By Babylon’s insistent, wrathful king,
To prophesy of kings to be,
Of giant empires forced to bend the knee.

The builders cast away the Cornerstone,
And God’s own Lamb was left to die alone,
Sweet Son of God and David’s heir,
The King of Shepherds braved the lion’s lair.

But when the stone was rolled away,
The Shepherd came to life on the third day,
That Stone not cut by hand arose
To crush the giant kingdoms of His foes.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

This poem is a montage of several scriptures, all held together by the themes of stones, shepherds, sheep, and sovereigns. That is one of my favorite methods of studying the scriptures, to follow a concept through the Old and New Testaments to see how they are connected. This poem starts with the shepherd David’s victory over Goliath using stones and a sling (I Samuel 17), then figuratively shows the deadly stone skipping off Goliath and landing in King Darius’ dream to become the Stone that was not cut by hand and that toppled the mighty kingdoms of this world (Daniel 2). Then Jesus, in whom all these themes intersect, is shown to be Cornerstone, Shepherd, Sheep, and above all, Sovereign. Although Jesus; death looked like defeat to this world that craves material prosperity, His Resurrection and the rolling away of the stone was the very process that toppled the kingdoms of this world, so that “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15). It always makes me smile to realize that the stone was rolled away from the mouth of the tomb not so that Jesus could get out (He could walk through walls) but so that the people could see in to verify that He had conquered death. Moving that stone in defiance of the Roman seal was also another way of His claiming sovereignty.

According to my notes, I completed the first draft of this poem on August 9, 2007. I found this note at the bottom of the page: “This idea has been bouncing around in my head like a ricocheting rock for several months. It was only when I had another deadline to meet that I was able to finish this poem. One of these days, I will have discipline enough to ‘do what I am doing’ and not try to find diversions from the task at hand.” That task was probably a seminary paper. As I recall, the original idea for the poem came from something that was said in a seminary class about King David, and a study on the use of the word “stone” accomplished the rest.

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